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I think one of the scariest questions a Catholic Christian ponders is the call to abandon all and follow Jesus more closely. When most people are asked their opinions on the consecrated, religious, eremitic life, etc., they immediately think of the “sacrifices” involved. The thought of giving up earthly things, like a spouse, children, parents, Louis Vuitton, or Ferrari’s, arises and quenches the beauty of emptying ourselves so that we can receive all Christ desires to give. However, the sacrifice is definitely worth it. The Saints tell us the beauty of following Christ closely. St. Anthony of Padua said that a man who abandons all may seem to be alone but that he is not alone because in Christ he has found his home, his repose and his peace.

I think one of the scariest questions a Catholic Christian ponders is the call to abandon all and follow Jesus more closely. When most people are asked their opinions on the consecrated, religious, eremitic life, etc., they immediately think of the “sacrifices” involved. The thought of giving up earthly things, like a spouse, children, parents, Louis Vuitton, or Ferrari’s, arises and quenches the beauty of emptying ourselves so that we can receive all Christ desires to give. However, the sacrifice is definitely worth it. The Saints tell us the beauty of following Christ closely. St. Anthony of Padua said that a man who abandons all may seem to be alone but that he is not alone because in Christ he has found his home, his repose and his peace.

My own discernment journey started towards the end of the fall semester of my freshman year in college, largely due to praying the Rosary daily. The more I prayed, the more I wanted to pray. The benefit of praying the Rosary daily was that I learned to listen to the yearnings of God’s Heart through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I felt more peace than ever before and begged Our Lord that this peace may remain with me forever. I wanted to pray more and more because I derived boundless joy from spending more time with God and from doing the things that pleased Him. My time in prayer ignited a spark in my heart to surrender my will to Christ and to embrace all His marvelous graces. I was and still am a long way from making a commitment to become a priest, but I had been given a brief taste of the beauty of seeking God’ will and I consequently began searching for Him everywhere.

It was not until I transferred to Baylor and found Saint Peter’s that I finally found what my heart was searching for. I renewed my consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary and begged her to lead me to her Son, and she did so instantly. My soul was immediately flooded with consolations and spiritual experiences, and I felt so drawn to the Eucharist that I had to be kicked out of the Chapel every night. Contrary to what one may think, my grades did not suffer at all. Rather, they improved dramatically and I had fantastic grades that semester, primarily because Christ was my life, and everything else fell into place when He was guiding me. I pursued Christ with all my strength, and while He gradually withdrew me from worldly pleasures, He showed me how perfect His Will is. He does not try to impose His “opinion” on us and then punish us when we do not comply. Rather, He knows the end from the beginning and knows what by path we may approach him best. He then patiently invites us to accept His will not simply because that is the best option for us but because we love Him. His calling may not necessarily be to the religious or consecrated life or even to the priesthood. He might be calling some of us to get married. We must, however, discern His will for us rather than make wrong assumptions so that our joy will be complete.

The most ideal model for us to have is the Blessed Virgin Mary. St. Louis de Montfort said that she is the easiest and most perfect way of approaching Our Lord. She is the earthly paradise of Jesus Christ, the new Adam, and it is in her that we may find the Lord. Furthermore, it is in her that we may truly find the unique and precious vocation that Our Lord calls us to and it is with her help that we can respond “Let it be done to me according to thy word” – Luke 1:38. Finally, there is nothing to fear because, as St. John Paul II said, we lose nothing when the reward we seek is Christ. Jesus, our One True Master, has shown us the way: a way of simplicity and self-surrender. Let us then follow Him, fearing nothing because He has conquered the world!

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St. Augustine says that he left north Africa to go to Italy in order to find better students there, students who would actually pay their fees. As a teacher, Augustine wanted to move up in the world. He longed for fame. But, as he says in his Confessions, another and higher reason he went to Italy was because God wanted him to hear the preaching of Ambrose of Milan and to be converted.

The Confessions are a profound meditation on God’s providence. I remember reading St. Augustine for the first time in college and being struck by the peculiar ways in which God is at work even in our selfish and God-ignoring choices. Having grown up with a pious, praying mother myself, I left home and went to public school in the eighth grade. My freshman year, in an advanced Spanish class, I met a sophomore named Mike, who took a liking to me for reasons I do not know.

Mike’s friendship was valuable to me for very selfish reasons. He was a very popular fellow, well-liked by everyone, athletic, talented, and friendly. I had grown up keeping to myself, the bookish child among mainly athletic brothers. High school was, relative to my own history, an overwhelmingly vibrant social sphere in which I was not at all at home. So, the meaning of this budding friendship with Mike was clear: it meant upward social mobility. If you were friends with Mike, you were something.

It turned out, actually, that Mike was a Christian. All the friends he introduced me to were, for the most part, also wonderful Christians, ‘mere Christians’, in C.S. Lewis’ words, whose most noticeable quality is that they didn’t consider their Christian faith just ‘one more thing’ in their lives. Not: “Yeah, I play hockey, am in the debate club, love the Dave Matthews Band, and–in addition–am Christian’. But rather: their faith meant everything to them; it oriented everything they did.

Seen retrospectively, from the vantage of God’s grace, it seems clear that the reason I became friends with Mike was because God wanted me to become a Christian, to turn away from myself toward Christ. I did, and humanly speaking, I owe Mike and our friends everything.

All these friends to whom Providence had introduced me were, I soon learned, Protestant. But at the time, I was not a big fan even of Protestantism. All the big books of theology seemed like a distraction from what really matters. Catholics seemed even more hopeless.

With a great deal of passion and interest, and probably a significant degree of arrogance, I went to a Christian undergraduate college in order to become a minister. In order to avoid a certain class, though, I had to switch concentrations, and as a result, I ended up in an intro to Western Civ that I had hoped to avoid. The result, however, was that I fell in love with history and philosophy. It is very difficult to explain how this happens. The closest thing I know to it is falling in love. There’s a great deal of excitement and nervousness, but at the same time peace, contentment, and gratitude.

As a result, I thought either of becoming a college professor or a Christian minister. My thought-process was simple. I was a Protestant, but one who was greatly appreciative of the Christian inheritance. I did not want to be a prodigal who takes the inheritance and squanders it. So, I figured, I would seek ordination in some historic Protestant denomination. But which one? The Episcopalians? The Lutherans? The Reformed? I spent several years investing myself both in Protestant communities and in study of their theological backgrounds. I even went to Yale Divinity School to do so.

It turns out, however, that from the vantage-point of God’s grace I actually went to Yale in order to become Catholic. I could not have anticipated this. But after developing deep friendships with a handful of wonderful Catholics, both in the academy and not, and after more and more reading books and deliberating over what to do with the great gifts God has given us, I came to realize around Easter 2013 that I should join the Church. After some private catechesis with a Dominican brother at St. Mary’s in New Haven–where Fr. McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus–I joined the Church in October 2013 and was confirmed–as St. Augustine.

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Hello, I’m Sam, and I like hugs.

​If there is one word that properly describes my life, it is rejection. Allow me to start with some background, I was born and raised a cradle Catholic. Catholicism was all around me, it was the primary religion in my culture however, because of this, it was very much taken for granted by my peers, family, and even myself. In a culture that doesn’t make their religion a priority, it was very easy for me to lose my identity as a Catholic (If I had one in the first place). And so I grew up following this religion I really knew nothing about, going to Catholic school for 14 years, from Pre-K to 12th grade.

As a child I started developing what I’ll call a robust body shape and began my awkward stage of childhood. This started the series of rejections that seemed to follow me for the rest of my life. It started with my peers, rejected by them, that kid that no one wanted to sit next to at lunch time, yes, that was me. I was the kid that wanted to play all the sports and games with everyone else, and was the last one picked; rejected from their teams as it were. As I grew, and started gaining an interest in the opposite gender, I faced more rejection. The kid that sat in the corner at dances, the kid that would join a group of his friends only to have them “suddenly” decide to sit down and leave me there, yes, I was that kid too.

Put someone through this on a day to day basis over and over and eventually that kid becomes a poor cynical kid. I had my faith with me, but it was always on the back of my mind, it was never expected of me to make it a priority, so not knowing any better, I never ran to Jesus when I was hurting, I just didn’t know how. Naturally by high school, my faith was shaken, rejected by every niche and clique I questioned why God would leave me all alone like that. This feeling led me to poor choices in high school, I went through two disastrous relationships with people I had no business dating and hanging with the people I should not have been. By far the biggest blow to my pride, the coup de grace, the potent cherry on top of the rejection sundae that seemed to be my life, was my Senior Year of high school, where I was rejected from every single University that I applied to.

Crushed could only begin to describe what I felt. I was absolutely depressed for the entire summer. I felt more like more of a failure than I ever had at that point in my life.

I was essentially going through the motions of my life, when one day late in the summer, I received a phone call. It was from Baylor University, they called to let me know that I was now able to receive admission if I still cared to attend. I nearly flipped. While I made the decision admittedly more difficult than it needed to be, I attended.

Being a new freshman, I searched eagerly to find somewhere I could belong. My brother, a graduate himself, introduced me to St. Peter’s. I was instantly attracted by the homey feeling, but was still cautious of meeting new people. Then came block party, the day I truly got to meet the people at St. Peter’s, and I was instantly greeted with a loving and caring community, one like I have never experienced. It was honestly the first time I ever felt accepted, by people who wanted me and cared for me. I joined the Knights of Columbus and found a welcoming group of men, and for the first time in my life I had true friends.

At St. Peter’s I rose from the “cafeteria catholic” that I was, and learned more about my faith and truly delved in. With so many knowledgeable people I quickly learned why we believe everything that we believe as Catholics, and why I should be more than willing to follow whole heartedly.

Finding this home away from home did not make the rejections go away, they all still come from time to time, but, when trials come and problems arise it is through this place, this home, this family that I can always draw my strength rely on to pick me up every time I fall down.

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I cannot remember a time when I did not have faith. That is, I cannot remember a moment when I believed God did not exist. And I really don’t know if this is common or not, only that it is my experience. Blessed John Henry Newman—my Confirmation saint—says somewhere that he believes God exists like he believes that he—Newman—exists. I like this. Growing up in a Southern Baptist church in Oklahoma, I was very much in the buckle of the Bible Belt, and conversations about issues in family, school, politics always had the backdrop of Christianity, even if it was an outright rejection of this faith. What this upbringing taught me is the presence of God, of the reality of God and our duty towards Him. At the very least, the question of God’s reality was forced upon my imagination at a very young age and by people who believed in one and acted like it. What remained to be seen—and still has—is what God is like, how God has shown Himself to us, or has God shown Himself to us?

I had in a particular sense a conversion experience like many—at a youth camp before my eighth grade, after which I was baptized (albeit for the third time, but that’s another story…). That mark never left me, and my friends and leaders in my Baptist churches, and a Presbyterian church later on, showed me Christ in their teaching and actions.

I am currently a PhD student studying religion and literature, but I went to college so I could be a foreign missionary. The people I’d known to be most fully consecrated to God’s will were these people, and my church emphasized the need to evangelize the world. And this is true, for all desires are for the heart of Christ. But I had a different kind of conversion in undergrad, this time to literature. It was sort of like St. Augustine’s “tolle lege”, but I started grabbing for Tolstoy, Flannery O’Connor, Shakespeare, and C.S. Lewis. I found that consecrating my time to art and the written word was a way not only of answering—if ever in part—questions about who I am, but also a way of loving God with my mind. Beyond this, I have found it another kind of witness, of God as he has shown Himself to people across time, space, cultures, beliefs.

Much of this exploration, through books, church, and conversation lead me to begin praying the Divine Hours with some professors of mine at Oklahoma Baptist University. This, for reasons I cannot explain, lead me across the street to St. Gregory’s Catholic University, where they had an active abbey along with the university. These brothers—monks, we still call them—were the first Catholics I knew outside of those I read of, and I had never known anyone so committed to Christ in every way—in money, time, and marriage to the sacraments. This relationship grew into a time of exploring the Church, almost exclusively in books and Protestant worship, that lead to my confirmation in the Catholic Church in Easter of 2012.

My life in the Church has been in most every way wonderful, though also with its difficulties. These difficulties come with responsibility of knowing Christ more fully, and therefore knowing the reality of rejecting Christ; and so often we do this—I do this—but a more unimaginable glory is found in His forgiveness when we seek it. I have found a lot of ways of describing what it’s like to be in the Church, and right now I like to think of it as a house with many rooms of all shapes and décor. Better yet a house within city, with many more and beautiful houses. Better yet, we find out, that it is only a person, and the person is Christ, somehow in every part of all this and in all of us. Baylor has been an excellent place to continue discovering this, and my friends are impossibly good examples in fulfilling the faith. Anyways, I’m out of space here, but feel free to come talk anytime. Grace and peace!

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I was born and raised in the erstwhile Hindu kingdom of Nepal to two very devout Protestant Christian missionaries. In fact, within our mission organization, Wycliffe Bible Translators, my whole extended family is so globally involved that colleagues would often quip, “the ‘Watters’ shall cover the earth.” As a child I was always surrounded by beautiful stories of sacrifice and perseverance to bring the name of Christ to the farthest and most remote reaches of the world, and many of the heroes of these stories were either family members, or were such close friends that I referred to them as ‘uncle,’ and ‘aunt.’ The most heroic of these stories, by the common consensus of all my childhood friends, were the stories of my grandfather and grandmother, who were the first Westerners to make contact with the village of Takashera. They were a pre-literate society, and my grandfather devised an alphabet for them so that he could translate the Scriptures in their language, while, with my grandmother, he raised my father and uncle, up in the beautiful pastures of the Himalayan hinterlands. I was fed from an early age all the beautiful tales of miracles, the fights with obvious diabolical activity, and the martyrs of the Kham church in Takashera. For those villagers whom my grandparents had converted to Christianity, the good news of Jesus Christ changed their lives. They said, “We have been waiting for this our whole lives, we did not know that our language could say such beautiful things. God has remembered even us, at the foot of the snows.”

As for my own family’s immediate story, my father was my hero. He was by far the most linguistically capable of anyone in our organization, and his translation project, which lasted 20 years, was notorious for the ‘curse’ that was upon it. Indeed, for the 50 years before my father had taken up the torch to complete it, everyone involved in the project had died in unexpected, sometimes uncanny ways. I knew, however, with every fiber of my being, that my father was fighting a war against the devil, and doing a work that was dear to the heart of God.

In Nepal, the Christian expatriate community was family to me. I did not grow up with an understanding of Christian denominations. True, I learned about the Reformation in 6th grade (I was taught by a British Anglican), and I had a basic understanding of the Christian denominational taxonomy. I knew that many of our friends, who were from all over the world, identified themselves under different denominational titles, but of course, this was as harmless as being from a different country. In fact, like most Protestants, I believed that denominations only added to the beautifully diverse kaleidoscope that is the Church. To me, the community of missionaries from all over the world, was the Church in its truest essence; a diversely storied group of people whose backgrounds were all so incredibly different, but had a common passion to see the name of Jesus on the lips of the whole world. I had a cursory understanding of Catholicism, and all I knew was that they did worship differently. I have only vague memories of being told by people (not my family) the typical Protestant misunderstandings of Catholic teaching, but all I really remember knowing was that the Medieval Church was corrupt, and Martin Luther had done the necessary deed of fighting the corruption. Looking back, I realize that Catholicism had actually always been present in some way to us. We were surrounded by two Catholic schools, which were the best schools in the valley, and our Protestant church was even allowed to meet in the Catholic church for a time. I remember thinking it was beautiful, but odd. It just didn’t seem to be the Christianity that I knew about, the Christianity of house churches, and clandestine meetings. I didn’t have a concept of what it meant to be a holy place. In fact, the only holy places that I was aware of were the evil Hindu idols that littered the corners of the Nepali streets. If that was what ritual worship, incense, and ‘holiness’ looked like, then I didn’t want much to do with it.

When we moved to the USA, I was sixteen years old, and about to begin junior year in the public high school in Hewitt, TX. The move was incredibly traumatic, a complete uprooting of everything I knew, a loss of identity. My family started going to a local Baptist church, not because my family had affiliated themselves with the Baptist denomination, but because this church had been a faithful supporter of my family’s mission for the entirety of its project. This was the kind of church I was used to seeing when we would come back to the States for furlough, and I knew that it was full of good people who loved God, but could never understand the life that we had lived. What was worse, this church, with its electric worship, inevitable allusions to football in the sermons, and intentionally strict informality, was just so American. I really couldn’t stand it, though my faith never wavered. I had always had a very real love for God, and a sense of His hand on my shoulder. The thing I wanted most in my life, since childhood, has always been to hear my Lord say to me, “well done, good and faithful servant.” This was difficult in the US, though. The public school was filled with very nominal Protestant Christians, and this was strange to me. Growing up in a country where our faith was unwelcome, being a Christian was a source of unity and solidarity that could not be matched. It was something we knew about each other in the deepest part of our hearts, and it formed the entirety of who we were.

My senior year, in the middle of looking for colleges, I had an acute onset of an autoimmune disorder that basically left me incapacitated for about two months. I had planned to go out of state for college, but because of how sick I had become, I needed to stay close to home, and close to the hospital that specializes in diseases like mine. So I started Baylor incredibly sick and broken, weekly consuming a medicine that was used for cancer patients before radiation therapy. Truthfully, though being sick was miserable, it was a grace and a relief. I had spent the last two years in agony over having left Nepal, over a lost identity. My sickness felt like God breaking my body so that my spirit could heal, and it certainly did. Freshman year was the closest I had been to God in years, perhaps ever. I was praying often, and the classes I was taking were opening my eyes to the riches of the Christian tradition. I began to learn about how the early and medieval Church read the Bible, and it was awe-inspiring. I had never thought to ask how Christians had read the Bible before us, or how they had done church. Their interpretation of Scripture seemed so ancient, yet so new. I was also searching for which churches to attend, still very unsure of how any of us were supposed to decide what denomination to belong to. In addition to this, I was meeting Catholics. I can’t say how shocked I was to find that some of the most devout Christians I had met on campus were Catholics. Yes, I was aware of the stereotype, and for some reason, my heart delighted to see young Catholics practicing their faith.

I can’t tell you when it started, some time in the first or second semester of freshman year, but I began to learn about sacraments, and about liturgy. It was a slow process of falling in love with the smallest details of liturgical worship. What a beautiful concept, that we can pray with our whole bodies, and as a Body, moving to the rhythm of the Word of God, confessing with our whole person, “not my will, but Yours!” It was a true acknowledgment of the gift of worship, that it was not something we had to create every week, but something that was given to us, because without that gift of God’s grace that perfects us, worshipping Him in spirit and in truth would be impossible. I began to cross myself when I prayed, and trembling with joy each time I did. It was confessing with my body, not just my mind, that the God to whom I prayed was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the Father of Jesus Christ. The first time I saw a Catholic genuflect in the sanctuary I was taken aback, and I started to tear. I wanted to bow before my King too. Then came the sacraments. I read a book by an Anglican theologian about eschatology, and it was the first time that I had even the word, ‘sacrament,’ but it blew me away. True, his sacramental theology was not as high as the Catholic Church’s, but it was high enough for an evangelical Christian to be drawn in by its beauty. The church that I was attending at the time was a contemplative Baptist church that tried its best to incorporate some form of liturgy and sacrament into the service. Though they did not confess any articulated belief in sacraments, I participated in it with joy. I ached to know my God deeper, and to see Him through the gifts that He had given the Church.

At the beginning of sophomore year, a friend told me that she was looking into Catholicism, and then, almost as if the words came out without any forethought or real contemplation, I said, “oh cool, me too!” I don’t really know where this came from. I had been learning much about ancient Christian tradition, but never had I thought about becoming Catholic. If anything, I was just hoping to be more liturgical Protestant. Once I said it though, I thought to myself, “well, I might as well actually investigate it now.” I went to RCIA that week, and it happened to be the day that we learned about saints, angels, and sacramentals. I was really weirded out. I thought that I would let it go. Still, I spent that semester in a class that focused on the beauty of ancient and medieval Christian art and architecture, and was amazed to find the continuity of the Church’s reading of Scripture, and the beauty that it inspired in the devotion of the Church’s art, and then I was horrified to find the ramifications of the Reformation on the art of the Church. I found the early days of the Reformation quite aesthetically bleak, if not sometimes repulsive, and I was enamored by the medieval church. The whole time I was talking to friends, putting them to the test on questions of Catholic belief. I was beyond frustrated that much of what they were saying made sense, but what frustrated me more was their humility before questions they didn’t know the answer to. They would always respond, “I don’t know, but let me see what the Church teaches.” This bothered me, because they seemed like sheep, and like children. Then I realized with a sudden clarity that this is exactly what Christ calls us to be, sheep and children before the mysteries of the faith, with complete trust in Him who cannot deceive.

I could spend a long, long time going through the details of all the exciting things I learned on the way to the Catholic Church, but to summarize, I simply came to accept that the Catholic Church is who it claims to be, though the process was not without its wrestling. In all honesty, I fought hard to not become Catholic when it started to become too real. It frightened me, and it confused me in a context in which I was already traumatized by a loss of an identity that was dear to me. For a long time, I didn’t want Catholicism to be true, because this meant demands on my future, and more frighteningly, it made demands on my past as well. It asked me to leave the identity that I thought I could hold on to forever. This hurt more than anything else. But it is with joy that I speak now, because our God is a God who heals, who longs to give us peace and joy, and who will take us through the valley of the shadow of death, through the desert, so that we may one day enter the New Jerusalem. In fact, the King of the New Jerusalem comes to us every day in the mass, humble and hidden, pledging us His eternal love by the mere fact of His presence. This is the most beautiful story every told, and I pray that by His overwhelming grace God will make me worthy to participate in it.

I grew up in the Catholic Church and have been going to mass regularly my whole life. I received the sacraments at the proper age but throughout middle school and high school my faith was just another department of my life, like school or sports or friends.

The Christian atmosphere at Baylor was definitely a reason why I came here, but I saw it more as a place where the people were really nice and happy. I was focused on the fruit instead of the vine!

My first year at Baylor I was approached by members of a protestant church and hung out with them off and on and went to some of their services. I also went to Saint Peter’s sometimes on Sundays. I liked the community at this other church but I knew there was something special about the Catholic Church. I didn’t even know about the super awesome community of Catholics that hung out at Saint Peter’s all the time.

My junior year one of my neighbors told me about Bear Awakening and convinced me to go. I’m so glad I did, it was an amazing weekend and got my foot in the door with the Saint Peter’s community. I realized how much easier it is to pursue Jesus when you have friends that encourage you and keep you accountable as opposed to pulling you in the wrong direction.

My senior year at Baylor has been the best one by far. I see my faith now not as another part of my life, but as a developing relationship with the very real person who is Jesus Christ. His infinite love and mercy have been a great source of joy for me and I strive to know and love Him more everyday.

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On the weekend of March 28th, over 60 college students embarked on a life-changing retreat known as Bear Awakening. There is a long-standing tradition when it come to Awakening retreats, and this year marked the 12th Awakening retreat for St. Peter’s Catholic Student Center. Here is what a few retreaters have to say about what they experienced on the retreat:

“Bear Awakening 12 was not the first retreat that I have been able to go on, but it is certainly one of the best ones! I went into Friday thinking I kind of knew what was going to go on during the retreat because I had experienced so many before as a retreater and as a team/staff member. This weekend certainly was nothing that I had experienced ever before. I let everything sink in day-by-day and finally was able to relight the fire of the Holy Spirit in my soul once again by attending the retreat. Ever since coming to college, I’ve been looking for something to do this, and I finally found it. I found the love and kindness in my new BA family and all of the activities that happened will forever be in my mind, constantly reminding me of God’s love and mercy for all of us. I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world; it’s amazing that we have something like this on college campuses to further grow closer to Christ. Praise God for all he does in the staff members; they did a wonderful job! God spoke to me several times throughout the weekend, and each one touched my soul even more than the previous one. Feeling Christ’s love for me left me in tears several times, and it was just the happiest feeling I’ve had in a long time. I am thankful for the time away from college to focus on my spiritual life and grow. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up this “retreat high” and carry it on into next year, and if it’s God’s will, I will be able to staff BA13 and bring others closer to our Lord.” –Cody Soto

“My experience with Awakening was something that was more than memorable. Although I must admit it was unlike anything I expected. With the secrecy and talk kept under lock and key, I thought I would experience something that was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Much to my surprise, on arriving at Awakening, many of the things we did I had experienced in a few of the retreats I have been on in previous years. What made Awakening the experience that it was, (at least for me) was the different and refreshing ways that these things had been presented. What really hit home was that I saw these activities and for some of them I knew exactly how they would play out, yet they still brought tears to my eyes. The beauty that they hold, and the distinguishing way Awakening presented them was a much welcomed experience that I don’t think could be reproduced anywhere. I say all these things and yet, that only applies to the events that I HAD seen before. Needless to say, the surprises of Awakening that I was not at all expecting, were all the more wonderful! I heard words of love spoken by people I knew, as well as some that I didn’t. That was perhaps the most touching part, and through those words wonderful bonds were made between me and my new family, a family I know I can call on for advice, prayers, or even just to hang out. Awakening was an experience that I can honestly say left a permanent mark in my memory and in my heart. It’s a pleasant experience I know I’ll hold with me for the rest of my life.” –Sam Esparza

“Bear Awakening was so great. I had been hearing about it since the New Student Retreat in the fall and waiting for it took patience that I do not have. My countdown started in January. I was the first one to pay and sign up for Awakening, so you could say that I thought I was ready. Nope. Once it was finally Awakening weekend, it was so much more than I thought it would be. I saw the people from St. Peter’s open up and speak about topics that we never really hear. The whole weekend was simply indescribable and practically perfect. After coming back from that weekend, I am trying to keep everything in my head and use it in my life. I really cannot wait until next year’s Awakening.” –Clarissa Pompa

“Before Awakening I knew only a few people from St. Peter’s. Afterwards, I felt like I was really connected with a ton of new friends, and St. Peter’s became a new home. It’s also really cool to have a bunch of Catholic friends. Your friendship becomes centered on faith and is strengthened by it.” –Kevin Torres

“‘What was your favorite part of Awakening?’ You’ve probably been asked this plenty of times since Awakening has ended. For me it comes with the same reaction as when people ask why I chose Baylor. So many thoughts go through my head that it’s hard to give an answer. Everything had its own uniqueness. There were parts of the retreat that felt so powerful and real because I knew quite a few of the staffers. But while I was experiencing these and other parts of the retreat, I wondered how they were going to affect the other retreaters. So now I ask all of those who have been awakened, whether it was BA12 or any other awakening. You’ve been awakened. Now what? You may have heard voices tell you to hit the snooze button and go back to the way things were before the retreat. However, the voice you should listen to is one of defiance; a voice that says there’s a reason you went on that retreat. Hitting the snooze button makes us comfortable, but we weren’t made for comfort. We were made for greatness. You’ve been awakened. Rise and shine.” –Andrew Ferrara

Bear Awakening is also staffed by college students who have previously attended an Awakening retreat. Here are a couple reflections from a staffer point of view:

“I staff awakening. I have fun. I no sleep on awakening.” –Derek Christensen

“Awakening is a weekend centered around the great love Jesus has for each of us. I think what surprised me most this year was that even as a staff member, I was able to learn just as much (if not more) from this retreat experience as I did when I was a retreater. Being able to focus on God and pouring into the retreaters was not only humbling, but also a source of great joy. Seeing God working through all those on Bear Awakening was a truly beautiful experience that makes me so grateful to be part of a great Catholic community likeSt. Peter’s.” –Lori Owens

Bear Awakening is truly a memorable weekend and St. Peter’s is incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to put on such an powerful retreat.

kelsey

As a child, I loved reading about saints’ lives.  I’d plop on the floor, grab a book, and flip through it skipping past the nuns and priests because they were “boring” and going straight to the really exciting stories about virgin martyrs.  Some mornings, my mom would find me sleeping on the floor because “that’s what St. Catherine of Siena did, duh!”

I wanted to be a saint.  I didn’t understand quite what that meant, of course.   I still mouthed off to my parents with the sass of a teenager and I disobeyed my parents’ orders with the orneriness of an old donkey.  Nevertheless, I knew within my heart that I wanted to be with Jesus.

As I got older, I forgot about the saints’ lives.  They became just names of dead people.

Throughout middle school and high school, my faith was still important to me, but I still didn’t understand the breadth and beauty of the Church.

When I came to Baylor, I was excited to make friends and grow in my faith.  Most of my freshman year, my interaction with St. Peter’s was not much more than Mass on Sundays.   I had many friends of other denominations and spent a lot of time with them.  This time included a lot of truth-seeking.  At one point, I was ready to leave the Catholic Church. Yet, God in His mercy, held fast to my heart.  As I contemplated leaving the Church, it struck me that I wouldn’t be able to receive the Eucharist.  My heart broke at the thought.  I think that was the turning point for me.   I realized the truth of the Church’s claim that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist.  From that point on, I strove to better understand other aspects of our faith.  God gave me a deeper understanding of many of the things that I had been questioning: the authority of the Pope, the role of Mary, etc.  For the first time, I could say that my membership in the Roman Catholic Church was not only what I had been raised in but also what I had chosen because it held the truth I had been seeking.

Sophomore year, I began attending daily Mass a bit more, joined a Bible study, began leading a Bible study, and joined Pastoral Council.  As a result I got to know people better at St. Peter’s and it was great.

Yet, for much of that year, I felt like I had to check things off of a list in order to be a ‘good’ Catholic.  I had to go to daily Mass, I had to lead a Bible study, etc. By the end of spring semester, I had pretty much forgotten why receiving Christ in the Eucharist as often as possible was so beautiful.  I had begun to see Bible study as something I had to do.  Everything I was doing through St. Peter’s felt forced.

I was preparing to study abroad in the fall semester and a part of me could not wait to escape all of these expectations that I imagined everyone had for me.  In a strange way that I wouldn’t even admit to myself, I was excited to leave St. Peter’s behind.  I was about to go to a foreign country where no one I knew would know if I was going to daily Mass or not.  I wouldn’t have to lead a Bible study and I could basically do whatever I wanted, right?

Italy.  I could probably write a whole book about my experience there.  And many of you have already heard a lot about it.  At the beginning, in Italy, I had no faith community whatsoever.  It was not glorious like I had expected.  It was really tough and lonely.  I missed the community of faith at St. Peter’s. I found myself seeking the very things I had wanted to escape from at St. Peter’s.  I began going to daily Mass, not because I felt obligated, but because I sought solace in receiving Christ. One of my roommates and I even did a mini FOCUS Bible study together and we loved it! No obligatory feelings whatsoever! God had stripped away community just as I had wanted, and through that, I finally saw how beautiful community truly is.  And, more importantly, I realized that I am called to be a part of a faith community, not so I can be a “good” Catholic, but so that I can grow in virtue and in love for God and others.

In Italy, I made a promise to myself that when I returned to Baylor, I would embrace—with all of the love God had poured into my heart while in Italy—the community God has given me.  So here we are now, I came back, and I didn’t have to do anything.  God poured out so many blessings on me through each person I encountered at St. Peter’s (and elsewhere).  Friendships have blossomed.  We have had rockin’ girls’ nights that all the guys are jealous of.  I have seen Christ in others so vividly.  I cannot thank God enough for the community here at St. Peter’s.   Even in Italy, God had given me community in unique ways.  And now I have not only the community at St. Peter’s, which I finally fully appreciate, but I also have a deeper understanding of the community of saints and believers all around the world. SAINTHOOD OR BUST Y’ALL! Let’s do this together!

P.S.  Just in case you’re wondering, I no longer believe that the saints who were nuns and priests are boring! I know that they are incredibly special because they devoted their whole selves to loving Christ! That’s about as exciting as it gets!)

isy

I am Isy Pérez. I am a fifth quarter law student. I am someone who enjoys saying “I am.” I graduated from a small Jesuit university in Kansas City, MO by the name of Rockhurst University.

I came closer to my faith for all the wrong reasons. Rather, it was one reason, a girl. I’d gone to daily communion service in high school, sure, but that was just something I did because it was my chance to be alone at 6:30 in the morning.

At Rockhurst I began attending daily mass for a girl. I joined a CLC (Christian Life Community) to impress a girl. I even attended a few pro-life meetings so I could hang out with this girl. I despise protests and protesting yet I did it in the cold without putting my hands in my pockets for a girl. Funny thing is, I thought that not putting my cold hands in the warmth of my pockets would make me seem tough and impress her. Sound lawyer-ly logic.

Heck, I started going to St. Peter’s because of this girl. I went on Awakening because I’d helped her staff an Awakening at Truman State University. My entire faith life was built on the premise of impressing this girl, on trying to win her over.

I don’t have to tell you that’s a bad premise and that it’s a very disingenuous way of approaching God and faith because you probably have more sense than me. Naturally, it was only a matter of time until that foundation was removed and the structure crumbled on its utilitarian self.

When the pursuit of that girl finally ended, when that chapter of my life finally closed, I felt like the joggers who ran with Forrest Gump. After Forrest stopped running in the middle of the desert and went home one of the joggers yelled out, “No what do we do?” I couldn’t sympathize anymore. The whole reason I went to daily mass and prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet, really the whole reason I changed an entire part of my life to revolve around the Church wasn’t to get closer to God. It was to get closer to this girl. This objective that was now off the table. Now what?

They say shoot for the moon because even if you miss you’ll land amongst the stars. I’m sure Jim Lovell of Apollo 13 would disagree, but in a sense I shot for this girl by filling my life with holy things. When the dust of the romance settled, I might have had initial questions as to why I kept on with my faith, but I couldn’t help but notice that I had a really good infrastructure for building a real faith life. Not a faith life built to impress anyone, but a faith life to get closer to God for the sake of getting closer to God.

When the dust settled, that’s what remained. By the way it’s kind of cool that God can forgive me for pretty much using him for a good four or so years.

I’m not sure what else I can say so, in the traditional Forrest Gump fashion, that’s all I have to say about that.

chelsea

Hi. I’m Chelsea. I like hugs, donuts on Sundays after mass, laughing, and telling stories. I’m a social work major, born and raised in WACO Texas, and I’ll be graduating this May. Wait…what? Is this real life? I feel like I was just a freshman. It’s amazing how time passes so quickly and how much can happen in four short years. Because I am 22 years of age and you don’t want to read a narrative of every year of my life, I’ll just tell you a short story about the past few years.

Alright. Rewind a little bit to my senior year of high school. Picture this: pretty average life. Grew up in Waco in a Catholic family. Attended Catholic elementary school and high school. I had a tight-knit group of friends, tried to my best to achieve and make good grades, enjoyed following all the rules. I was pretty comfortable with the way things were and felt confident that I had my future figured out and everything fit neatly into place. Little did I know that my world was about to be turned upside down.

So I kind of have a bad memory, but there’s two days in my life that will always be vivid memories: the day I found out my dad had cancer and the day he died. I was at a district TAPPS academic meet in San Antonio when I found out. My dad had recently gone through major surgery on his back. Several weeks after his surgery, he was losing a lot of weight and wasn’t getting any better. We knew something else had to be wrong. He had a biopsy done and on that day I was nervously awaiting the results. I called my mom and immediately knew something was wrong. She said told me the doctors found a mass on his pancreas. He had pancreatic cancer. Fatal cancer. My world stopped for a moment as I tried to grasp what she just said. My dad had stage four pancreatic cancer. He was dying. Before this moment, death seemed so far away. I took for granted the thought that both of my parents would be around for a long time and they’d be there to share all of my major life events–like graduating, getting married, and having kids. I was reminded of something very important that day: life is so fragile and precious.

Seven short weeks later, on April 4, 2010, he was gone. My dad passed away peacefully in our home on Easter Sunday, surrounded by my mom, my sisters, and myself. The last words he spoke to me that morning were “Happy Easter, I love you.”  

The first year after his death was a blur. I graduated high school and plunged into the college life. I was too distracted with my new life in college to recognize or deal with my grief. But it eventually hit me sophomore year. If I’m being honest, I was pretty upset with God for awhile. I couldn’t understand why I had to lose my dad and why he died so early in life. It was during this low point in my sophomore year that I witnessed the face of God through some pretty special people. Up until this point, my relationship with God felt distant. But I began to draw closer to Him as the agonizing pain of grief turned into comfort, hope, and love provided by an uplifting community. As you may or may not have guessed, that community is St. Peter’s. There’s nothing quite like knowing you’re not alone in your journey. I have been surrounded by others who have brought me closer to God by loving me, growing with me, and walking with me as I seek to know Christ more and share Him with others. Since my sophomore year, I have had the blessing of serving with others in different capacities at St. Peter’s. One of the most memorable times was being able to serve on leadership for the Bear Awakening 11 retreat. Working with such incredible Christ-like individuals awakened my faith (hah, get it? Awakening?) and inspired me to seek ways to grow in relationship with Christ. Attending daily mass and going to bible studies have also played a huge part in strengthening my faith.

I am forever grateful to the community who held me as I grieved, helped me find meaning in my loss, and led me to the cross and to Christ where I have found joy.

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Our new FOCUS team for the upcoming year. Keep all our Bears serving with @focuscatholic in your prayers while they continue their training.
pc: @briannacasias Happy Father's Day to our dear spiritual father, Fr. Daniel! We are so blessed! Class of 2017 🎓We are so excited for Commencement this weekend. We hope you will share this special weekend with us at Baccalaureate Mass Friday at either 11am or 6:15pm. For all of you still up studying for finals tomorrow, we're praying for you. Finish strong!